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Chinese Five Spice Duck Legs

Potted Prawns

This is Jane Lovett's recipe from her marvellous Make It Easy cookbook, and very good it is too.

I have a curious reticence about eating duck and I absolutely cannot say why I worry so about ducks, rather than chickens or sweet gambolling lambs, but there is something particularly endearing about a waddling, gently quacking Jemima, especially if followed by a string of ducklings.  However..

Ducks are fatty birds, which is an essential asset for long, slow cooking.  The fat gently oozes out of the meat as it cooks, creating a sort of built in self-basting system, rendering the legs succulent and tender.   In this scenario they have a mildly Chinese feel to them, which is delicious, but thankfully not so much so you feel you have to continue the Chinese theme with your vegetables, etc., which can be a step too far; just accompany them with fluffy mashed potato and something green, or do the full Chinese thing if you wish, of course.

Potted Prawns


  • 2 duck legs

  • Half tsp. Chinese 5 spice powder

  • 250ml water

  • 2 tbsps. chilli sauce (I like Lingham's)

  • 2 tbsps. dark soy sauce (low salt)

  • 2 tbsps. dry or medium sherry

  • 1 tbsp. honey

  • 1 dsp. ginger, grated

  • 2 cloves garlic, grated

  • 2 star anise

Oven 200c


  • Trim away any excess skin and pat the legs dry with kitchen paper

  • Using the tip of a sharp knife, prick the skin all over, especially the thicker, fattier parts

  • Rub the 5 spice powder all over the legs, particularly into the skin

  • Now put the legs skin side down into a cold, un-oiled frying pan or casserole and brown both sides of the legs, particularly the skin, over a high heat.  Set the legs aside for a moment 

  • Pour off most of the fat from the pan, then add the water.  Using a wooden spoon, release any flavourful crusty bits which have caught on the pan.  

  • Add all the remaining ingredients, give everything a stir and return the legs to the pan, skin side upwards.   The skin should be exposed, rather than submerged in the liquid.

  • Bring the sauce up to simmering, cover with a lid, cook in the oven for an hour then remove the lid, stir in a splash or water if the sauce has significantly reduced and cook uncovered for a further 45 minutes.  

  •  Lift out the duck legs and keep them warm

  • The sauce will now be very concentrated and crusty.  Skim off any excess fat and then add a little boiling water to the pan and vigorously scrape and stir to incorporate all those gloriously flavourful crusty and solid bits.

Helpful Hints

Don't worry if the skin doesn't become super-crispy, it will be delicious and far from soggy.

There will not be a huge amount of sauce, but it will be flavourful and the duck legs will be succulent.

Cook ahead, the duck legs re-heat well.

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